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Minnesota Duluth hockey student section tamed, torn by chant controversy

Chants from the student section at Friday night's Bulldogs hockey game were PG-rated at the most. Much to the discomfort of some of the students. "It's boring," said Christine Johnson, a junior from Edina, Minn., at the conclusion of a scoreless ...

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While other UMD students gesture toward the ice during Friday's men's hockey game against Colorado College, Matt Ward holds a handmade sign referring to Colorado's team name. Ward said the recent controversy over student chants was an overreaction. (Steve Kuchera /skuchera@duluthnews.com)

Chants from the student section at Friday night's Bulldogs hockey game were PG-rated at the most.

Much to the discomfort of some of the students.

"It's boring," said Christine Johnson, a junior from Edina, Minn., at the conclusion of a scoreless first period.

She wasn't talking about the game itself but of life in the student section in the wake of a crackdown on over-the-top chants.

Bob Nielson, University of Minnesota Duluth athletic director, sent a letter to students dated Feb. 17 warning that "any profane, racial, sexist or abusive comments or actions directed at officials, opposing players or teams will be grounds for removal from the arena" and could result in forfeiture of season tickets.

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The warning stemmed from a complaint about chants during the Feb. 10-11 series against the University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux.

Students seemed to be heeding the warning during Friday's game against Colorado College, but some said it had a dampening effect on their enthusiasm.

"We've been a lot quieter," said Scott Therens, a senior from Lino Lakes, Minn. "We're not going to do any of the bad cheers, because we don't know where the line is."

A recorded announcement by UMD star Jack Connolly urging fans to "cheer respectfully" was aired during the game's opening minutes. It was met with scattered applause but didn't seem to be noticed in the student section.

There was ample cheering, but it was much more pro-Bulldog than anti-

Colorado College. During the final phrases of the national anthem, the students raised their fists, finishing "... the home of the" with the shout: "Bulldogs!" Several chants broke out for fan-favorite goalie Kenny Reiter.

When Colorado College players were introduced, the students greeted each by name, as in: "Hey, Joe, you suck!" And when goalie Josh Thorimbert made a save, they chanted: "You got lucky!" But that was about as negative as it got.

It was tame and dissatisfying, some students said.

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"I've heard a lot of complaints that the students are worried about chanting," said Andy Fondrick, a sophomore from Detroit Lakes, Minn., in the front row of the student section. "They're afraid they're going to get kicked out, and a lot of them are saying the atmosphere isn't the same."

The prohibition on offensive cheers and the complaint from the North Dakota fan that set it off brought out a satirical streak in some of the students.

When students near the front started singing the Sunday school song "Kumbaya," Issac Enyart, who plays trombone in the pep band, yelled, "That's religious! You're going to get another e-mail!"

Matt Ward, a senior from Apple Valley, Minn., held up a sign referring to the Colorado College nickname as well as the chant controversy. "If a Tiger attacks you, does that make it hostile and abusive?" it read.

Ward said he was stopped by officers before he entered the arena and warned about his signs. So after he lettered another sign during the game, he showed it to an officer for approval before displaying it. It referred to Thorimbert, whom Ward had seen at a local restaurant the night before, by his nickname: "Hey Thorny, I spit in your Olive Garden," it read.

The controversy was an overreaction to fan behavior that's long-established, Ward said. "Those chants have gone on for 15 years."

Johnson agreed. "They're blowing it out of proportion," she said.

None of the students condoned the chants that had been aimed at the North Dakota players.

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"We crossed the line for sure, I won't deny that," Ward said, but added: "We're just here to have fun and support our team."

Some of the chants during the Fighting Sioux games were inappropriate, Johnson said, but, "I think it was just a small group." She and other students closer to the front tried to get them to stop, she said.

The students need a place to let off steam, Enyart said, and boisterous behavior at hockey games lets them do that.

"This is my outlet," he said. "I sit in class all week, and I get to scream at hockey players on Friday and Saturday night."

Related Topics: HOCKEY
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